Since he called time on his playing career in 2015, Rio Ferdinand has enjoyed a pretty seamless transition to broadcasting.

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The former Manchester United centre-back can regularly be seen as a pundit on BT Sport, is commonly part of the BBC's team covering major international tournaments, and has fronted a range of factual programmes including the award-winning documentary Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum and Dad (which earned him a BAFTA in 2018).

His latest project is Rio Ferdinand's Tipping Point, a three-part docuseries for Amazon Prime Video covering three separate issues that continue to plague modern football – racism, homophobia, and players struggling with their mental health.

Speaking exclusively to RadioTimes.com, the ex-England international explains why the series marks new territory for him – and reveals what it was about the project that made him so keen to sign up.

"I've been approached to do things on racism and different topics around football many times, but I think the difference with this one – and we had the ability to talk about this – is that it wasn't going to be something where it was just highlighting the issues," he says.

"There's always a lot of these things that are done where it's just about highlighting issues, it's not about what's the next step. And I think we tried to get that across in these different episodes – yes, there's an issue and yes, we'll highlight it, but how do we get the ball rolling to continue the conversation for some sort of development and positive, impactful change?"

The first of the three episodes finds Ferdinand on fairly familiar ground. Both during his playing days and since his retirement, he has been vocal about how racism remains depressingly prevalent in the game, and he has often played his part in campaigns aimed at stamping out this form of bigotry. Progress has been slow, but Ferdinand hopes that by learning lessons from abroad, and by taking into account major developments in tracking racist abuse on social media, there is a clear way forward.

"I think that one of the important parts was travelling and going and seeing different people," he explains of a scene in the episode that sees him meet former England international Eni Aluko, who now works for Los Angeles-based club Angel City FC. The pair discuss how in some ways, the USA is further forward when it comes to dealing with racism in sport, and Ferdinand came away from the encounter with some new ideas for how current Premier League pros can lead the charge for change on this side of the pond.

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"I think the NBA is a really good example," he says. "When they're not happy with a certain situation or an incident, they come together as a unified group, and make their feelings heard – and they do move the dial and get decisions overruled or changed. They have an impact on certain areas because they are together and I think our players can definitely learn from that. That was one of the big learnings from doing this documentary – you are definitely much more powerful as a group."

Another key scene in the first episode sees Ferdinand visit a pub near Burnley's Turf Moor stadium. Some may recall the infamous incident where a banner bearing the slogan "White Lives Matter" was flown overhead during a match between Manchester City and Burnley at the Etihad in 2020. This visit was a sobering experience for Ferdinand, who describes some of the exchanges he had in the pub as "like you went into a time machine backwards".

"I thought that was quite an insightful scene, and a powerful scene," he says. "I didn't even have to say much to get what we got out of it. There's a level of ignorance, there's a level of, I think, a lack of education. And there's denial, definitely in the actions of these people and the impact that it has on communities.

"They have no idea really, and they don't really see the errors in their ways. But also that's a societal issue as well, because again it's a lack of education, and being in an area where there are not really many people of colour there. So all those factors merge together and lead you to get situations like the plane being flown above the stadium."

There's a long way to go then, but Ferdinand has already been encouraged by some of the reactions he saw while he was making the series, especially the fact that he was invited to meet Premier League officials and give evidence at Westminster.

"The reaction of the Premier League is a good example in that now I'm actually going in at board level and talking to the board based on the filming that we've been doing," he reveals. "So their reaction has been a positive one in that sense – although time will tell how positive that is and how much impact that's going to have and how much of a voice we can have in that room.

"The fact I'm going in at that level – and not just me, but a group of players that are current players – and can have that voice in that room is a step in the right direction, but I think we can't get carried away at all."

RioFerdinandsTippingPoint_05
Prime Video

Of course, Ferdinand has first-hand experience of racism in football, whereas the episode on homophobia saw him tackling an issue that is less immediately relatable to him. This opportunity was one of the things about Tipping Point that appealed the most to him, and he says he is grateful that the series gave him the opportunity to address some of his own past mistakes.

"I think that was the challenging, exciting kind of element to it," he reveals. "I think people would expect me to do a documentary about racism because I've been so vocal in years gone by, but the sexuality episode – and even the mental health episode – not so much.

"So my approach to it was very different. I'm going into racism with a bit more knowledge and understanding, whereas with sexuality that was very much an area where there was a vulnerability for me, kind of showing up with my mistakes that I had made previously and enabling other people to go, 'I'm probably sitting in that boat as well.'"

The episode sees Ferdinand speak to several of the small number of male professional footballers who are openly gay – including former Aston Villa midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger, who came out a year after his retirement, and currently active players such as Australian Josh Cavallo and American Collin Martin. He says he learned a lot from these encounters, including discovering that he was approaching the fact that so few high-profile players have come out in the wrong way.

"I think going into that episode, we talked a lot about 'Where is the player, when's the player coming out, why isn't the player coming out?'" he reveals. "And it became a bit of a witch hunt. I think a lot of articles in papers are quite aligned to that as well, and that makes it very scary for an individual who is on the cusp of coming out or just exploring the idea of coming out.

"And we had to kind of change our mindset really. In becoming part of that witch hunt process, inevitably you end up scaring that person and making it a place completely the opposite of what it should be, which is a safe place for that person to come out. So every person is an individual and has to be treated like that, and each case will be very different."

RioFerdinandsTippingPoint_02
Prime Video

While some progress has been made around LGBTQIA+ rights at club level and among fanbases, there is currently justifiable concern about the upcoming World Cup in Qatar – a country where homosexuality remains illegal. There's a feeling that the decision to stage football's most glamorous tournament in a nation with clearly homophobic laws undermines any progress that has been made, so does Ferdinand think that this kind of thing could actually make it harder for players to come out?

"I don't know," he replies, appearing rather reluctant to be drawn on the subject. "I think it's more about... the experience I had filming this was that football clubs and the people that work within football clubs setting the right culture for people is a real big, big influence.

"We went to LA and spoke to a guy who works in the commercial department, very high up in the LA Dodgers franchise. And him coming out – and getting married on the mound in the middle of the park at the stadium – are positive influences, and it's reassuring for people that it's accepted within the franchise and the club but also looked at as normal.

"And I think those types of examples are very important going forward for people, whether it be current players or people that are working within those clubs. They have an impact on the fans and the fan base and the way that they act and respond to situations like that."

The final episode of the series explores another issue that has often been stigmatised in football – mental health. It particularly focuses on young players, with recent years having seen an alarming uptick in the number of players reporting problems with depression and anxiety at academy level. This is another area where Ferdinand was able to draw on his past experiences – especially by reflecting on the way that he himself had avoided broaching the subject early in his own career.

"In football, the culture has always been a macho environment, and with any sign of vulnerability or emotion, you're deemed as somebody who's surplus to requirements," he says. "I was probably part of that problem, as I discuss on that episode, and that was the culture back then.

"Whereas I think now, even my own experience is that talking and communicating and showing a vulnerable side of yourself, showing emotion, being able to say that things aren't okay, that should be embraced. And I think there's going to have to be an education process for the people that are coaching, or in the education areas of these football clubs, to enable these young people to be able to speak and to feel comfortable and not actually feel that they'll be judged in the aftermath of showing that side of themselves."

Rio Ferdinand in Tipping Point. Prime Video

Ferdinand argues that past initiatives to combat mental health struggles in the game have often been nothing more than "tick box exercises" and – as with the other episodes in Tipping Point – he hopes the programme can encourage people to think about dealing with the issue in a more proactive way.

"For a lot of companies and a lot of the stakeholders within the game, whether you're looking at sponsors, commercial companies, or the organisations that run the game... nothing tangible or sustainable has been done. It's just like, we'll do it for this little period of time, just to make sure that it looks like we're okay.

"And again, us highlighting those things and the lack of belief and trust in the players, we would like to think would kickstart a more positive mindset towards these issues going forward. But I'm not sitting here saying that we've rewritten the rulebook and things are all fine and dandy now – this journey has gotta continue."

Rio Ferdinand's Tipping Point is streaming on Prime Video from Friday 11th November – try Amazon Prime Video for free for 30 days. Looking for something else to watch? Check out our TV Guide or Streaming Guide.

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